So many aspects of our modern lives and the way society is structured are taken for granted, and we just assume things are the way they are because they have to be that way. This series of posts looks at a few of the hidden assumptions we commonly make about education.
You Have To Go To School, Like Everyone Else
If there’s one thing that characterizes modern life, it’s options. The freedom available to individuals in terms of the number of options for almost everything is expanding and accelerating. This includes options about what to learn, how to learn, how to earn money, and how to pursue a fulfilling career.
Research has already shown that people perform better at all types of tasks when they get to choose what to work on, and they learn better when they study the things they are interested in. For now school is still obligatory for most, but it is only a matter of time before governments and educational institutions catch on to the fact that their most effective role is not to mandate the learning process, but to facilitate it. In the mean time, there are thousands of homeschooling and unschooling families are proving by example, in countless ways, that public school isn’t for everyone, and that the options for how to pursue an education and a career are limitless.
Mark Twain famously said that he had never let his schooling interfere with his education, and in today’s world we can all take this advice even more to heart, as there is no longer any reason that schooling has to interfere with education. Instead of trying to march in lock-step with a fixed curriculum, you can learn about whatever you want, whenever you want, and let passion and interest guide you to master any type of knowledge or skill you desire, as well as design a rewarding career for yourself.
If school is necessary and beneficial, why does it need to be mandatory? Things that are truly necessary, like eating and sleeping, don’t need to be enforced because people want to do them. Likewise, people, especially children, are gifted with an innate curiosity and industriousness that makes them want to explore, discover, and create. They want to help others, they want to do the things that adults do, and every child, at some point, dreams of saving the world. Children do not want to avoid meaningful work, they crave it. Passivity is not the natural state of the human organism, but it is a natural reaction to coercion.
The belief that people don’t want to help themselves is a self fulfilling prophecy. If we believe that children must be forced to learn, we rob them of their initiative and don’t allow their creativity and intellectual curiosity to flourish. Children forget most of the facts they are force-fed at school, but they learn the meta-lesson all too well: “You are not in control of your life.”
The reason kids don’t want to go to school isn’t that they don’t know what’s good for them, it’s that they do know what’s bad for them. They don’t want to spend their time on useless, unfulfilling tasks, they don’t want to be forced to compete, and they don’t want to be judged, ridiculed, or belittled. They want to flourish, and they seek out the things that help them do that whether we try to force them or not; in fact we can’t keep them from doing it. We don’t have to force children to learn any more than we have to force them to breathe.
The paradox of a compulsory education is that what is compulsory is supposedly both essential AND dictated. But if something is truly essential, it need not be dictated, because people will want it naturally. Dictates and rules can only make us do what does not come naturally, never what does come naturally, as the satisfaction of true needs always does.
I have never known a single human being who didn’t want to change the world at some point as a child. This is an innate impulse that all healthy humans share. We do not need to dictate what the next generation learns (and if you think about it, how could we?), we only need to empower and enable them to manifest their dreams. And if you’re still burdened by the mindset that the world is a harsh and demanding place and that forcing kids to learn things they don’t want to in order to fit in is a necessary part of keeping the system running, I’m here to tell you that that is an old and obsolete worldview that we can choose to accept or reject at any time. Contribution and distinction are basic human needs (along with connection and growth). Kids want to create a place for themselves in the world and contribute to their families and communities, and they eagerly embrace learning, but they reject rules and constraints that they do not understand. Instead of acting like we know what kids need to learn, we should instead be empowering and assisting them to learn anything and everything they want.